The Vaselines Interview

Eugene Kelly speaks to ClashMusic...

From the moment Kurt Cobain proclaimed them as his favourite band – Nirvana covered the band on both ‘Insecticide’ and their ‘Unplugged’ album – Glasgow’s The Vaselines, ostensibly built around the dual songwriting team of Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee, have occupied something of a quiet niche in the indie family tree.

The band split after releasing only one ‘proper’ album, 1989’s ‘Dum-Dum’, and aside from a few brief live reunions, including one opening for the aforementioned grunge titans in 1990, they’ve been out of sight and relatively out of mind. But now the pair are back, having played live in London recently and witnessed the deluxe re-issue of 1992 compilation ‘The Way Of The Vaselines – A Complete History’ via Sub Pop. Retitled ‘Enter The Vaselines’ and expanded to include demos and live versions, the double-disc album is out this week.

With legions of fans still discovering the band’s music today, ClashMusic caught up with Eugene Kelly to bring the story of The Vaselines up to date.

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The Vaselines – ‘Dying For It’

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So, Eugene: for the casual listener, or those who might have lost track, what have you been up to since the band got back together?
Well, we’ve been really busy recently – we played the Forum in London last month, which was great. We’ve been frantically trying to write some new songs as well…

Songs to be credited to The Vaselines?
Yeah I guess so, although we’re very much just starting that… but apart from that we’ve been playing shows here and there as well. We played our first shows in America last year, in New York and Brooklyn and also at Sub Pop’s 20th anniversary festival, which was awesome.

When you come back to them now, how do you feel about your original songs nearly 20 years down the line? Time must give you a slightly different perspective on them?
Well, it’s certainly a good chance to tidy them up a bit, as with the [old] Sub Pop release we were mastering from old cassettes and stuff as we didn’t have the multi-track recordings to work from. This time though we managed to get hold of the original multi-tracks, so we took them down to Abbey Road and worked from there. There’s loads of stuff on those recordings that you didn’t really hear last time out, so it’s nice to bring them out now. Also, there’s been times when we’ve been sitting looking at each other and just laughing when we listen back to these things – things you’ve forgotten about, you know, that you could only write when you’re in your mid-20s. You look at them now and you’re like, “what?!”

How did you go about selecting the extra material for this release – was there a lot of live and unreleased stuff to choose from?
Not really. I mean, when we were together we only really made one album and, like, three demos you know, made on a little four-track tape recorder. We did find some live stuff though, which was great – the Bristol show that’s on there is actually our very first show, where there’s just the two of us and a tape player. They sound great anyway – The Vaselines were always very different live as we didn’t rehearse or anything a great deal, so things would just happen you know and at times the ending of songs were almost a surprise to us. It’s nice to let people hear a bit more of that.

You mentioned you’re writing new songs again at the moment – how are they coming along?
Well, we’re just starting out writing songs again – to fill out the set more than anything. I think our total output is like 54 minutes or something, so we wanted to write some new stuff to make sure people were getting their money’s worth. We’ve got kinda five new songs now written.

Have you thought seriously about a new record?
Well, I suppose it depends really – at the moment we are just writing and we’ll wait to see if those songs are identifiably The Vaselines and see what happens. We’ve got some summer shows lined up at Primavera Sound [in Spain] and Summer Sonic [in Japan], but apart from that we don’t really know what’s going to happen.

Does it surprise you at all that people are still interested after all this time?
It does, yeah. When we made the records we didn’t really think about longevity at all; we felt very lucky that we got to do an album at all. But since then the music hasn’t been out of print at all – Sub Pop have kept it in the shops all this time, and people keep finding it. We were surprised at the Forum show last month, at how varied the audience was – lots of younger brothers and sisters and stuff, a whole new audience really. I mean, the album still sells pretty consistently year on year…

Presumably the Cobain factor has a lot to do with that – how does that connection sit with you these days? A problem at all?
No, not at all, as it’s part of our story and we can’t escape that… I mean, when we made these records we had visions of pressing up a couple of thousand copies and that was it – it would be destined to be one of those ‘lost’ LPs, you know? But Nirvana really introduced us to a whole new audience and continues to do so… how could you not be happy with that?

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And so it is that The Vaselines find themselves in 2009, at ease with their past and seemingly both curious and excited about the future. With new fans finding the band every day (a cursory glance at Google will give some impression as to the band’s ongoing durability in the online domain), there remains something of the elusive icon about Eugene Kelly – a songwriter in a much-feted position; influential and yet humble, widely known yet something of a background enigma. Jesus may want him for a sunbeam, but with a bit of luck we might just get another record out of him beforehand.

‘Enter The Vaselines’ is out now on Sub Pop. Find The Vaselines on MySpace HERE.

Words: Ben Mainwaring

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